QPR 2 Portsmouth 0: Jordan Cross’ match report
Pompey’s romance with the FA Cup is over for another year as their mix-and-match side finally succumbed to QPR.
Two second-half set-pieces were the undoing of Kenny Jackett’s men as they fell in their fourth-round replay to the Championship side.
But there was enough in the dogged efforts of their side for them to feel the love from the 2,941 travelling Blues fans in west London.
And that warmth will be gladly received when the cold chill of faltering league form is sweeping around PO4.
In reality, Pompey scarcely threatened Steve McLaren’s men on a night where they worked at full pelt to match their opponents’ pace before succumbing with 20 minutes remaining
Lee Freeman’s wand of a delivery provided the ammunition for Nahki Wells and Matt Smith to do the damage.
But this was an evening when Jackett was unable to call on 11 of his squad through a mix of injury and ineligibility.
This was a clash when the Pompey boss made five changes with, at best, six of those men on display at Loftus Road likely to get into his strongest side.
It was a free hit and a dance away from the stress and strain of League One duties – and that’s now where the focus must quickly return.
Jackett sprang some surprises in his team selection with his changes from the draw with Doncaster.
Chief among them was handing a fourth start of the season to Adam May and opting to name just six substitutes.
That move underlined the number of men unavailable for the game.
Louis Dennis, Oli Hawkins, Christian Burgess and Anton Walkes were the other players coming into the starting line-up.
Nathan Thompson, Jack Whatmough, Ronan Curtis, Omar Bogle and Dion Donohue were the men who missed out.
The crackling atmosphere provided the perfect backdrop for an exciting night of Cup action under the lights at Loftus Road
And in an even opening, it was the home side who fashioned the first clear sight of goal in the fifth minute – one they should have feasted on.
It was the lofty presence of Smith, a significant factor after his second-half introduction in the first tie, which presented the danger as he powerfully met Darnell Furlong’s cross six yards out.
Fortunately for the visitors, a very presentable opportunity flew past Craig MacGillivray’s upright.
The pre-match challenge had been set by Jackett for Pompey to once again find the stoic qualities which have been a hallmark of their season, until their recent travails.
That looked anything but the case with some jittery defending from a corner in the 13th minute.
Both Tom Naylor and Jamal Lowe passed up opportunities to clear before Massimo Luongo lashed a 20-yard shot over the crossbar.
That was the cue for the home side to exert their first concerted pressure of the game with Freeman fizzing a 25-yard snap shot over and some dangerous balls angled towards the hulking frame of Smith. Pompey stood firm.
Jackett’s men were having their moments on the break, however, and there was enough threat to keep the travelling masses housed in the School End enthused.
The sight of Hawkins back in a Pompey shirt for the first time since New Year’s Day was one to further gladden the faithful enjoying their trip to the capital.
It was a promising return, too, as he proved an eager target man in his side’s 4-3-3 formation – even if, it must be said, he was feeding on scraps.
QPR were the side to grow into the contest more assuredly, though, with the best chance of the first half arriving for them seven minutes before the break.
It was the marauding right-back Furlong it fell to, with the R’s man feeling he’d done enough when meeting Freeman’s cross on the edge of the six-yard box.
The woodwork was this time the recipient of Pompey’s thanks, though, with the ball beating MacGillivray but cannoning back off the bar and away to safety.
Jackett’s men made it to the interval with no damage done and although it was slim pickings on the front foot, the fact the Blues could not be separated from their second-tier foe offered cautious grounds for optimism.
It appeared the battle lines had been drawn for the evening with the restart following the pattern of QPR pressure with moments of Pompey threat on the counter.
Two sighters from the forceful Luongo underlined the point but neither could threaten MacGillivray’s goal.
The same could be said of Wells in the 58th minute but it took a majestic last-ditch tackle from Matt Clarke to deny the Bermudian a certain goal as he was about to pull the trigger.
The introductions of Gareth Evans and Bryn Morris gave Jackett’s men a sturdier look.
And it was the former who had Pompey’s best sight of goal in the 68th minute but he failed to direct Lee Brown’s cross on target from the penalty spot.
The defining moment of the night then arrived two minutes later – with a set-piece the visitors undoing.
Freeman again provided the ammunition with Smith the man inevitably winning the header.
Defender Joel Lynch was allowed to help the ball forward on the turn and it was Wells who was credited with the final touch virtually on the line.
Seven minutes later the tie was over, with Freeman again the man to hurt Pompey with his set-piece quality.
This time it was a free-kick which gave him the opportunity to showcase his cultured left foot.
Smith greedily accepted the invite as he powerfully applied the headed finish.
So that put paid to hopes of Jackett’s men progressing to the fifth round for the first time since reaching the final in 2010.
The sight of Pompey’s pluck remaining until the death – as Clarke’s stoppage-time effort was blocked among the bodies in the box – was a pleasant late sight.
The same can be said of the ovation afforded the players as their exit was confirmed.
It was a post script to FA Cup involvement which would have been appreciated.
Now there are more pressing league issues to attend to.